Returning to Earth will be a much faster trip. Partly due to the successful test of the engines on the way to Mars, but also because of our more substantial atmosphere which will aid in our deceleration. We lift off from the Martian surface, under control once more from that computer on Phobos. It pulls us towards the moon before flinging us off, on our way back to Earth.
We’re told by the flight captain, that due to testing of full power on the way home, we have to remain in our seats. One last beer remains, ‘Intergalactic Space Hopper’ from Hardknott Brewery, which I sip straight from the bottle. The spacecraft shudders incessantly as we speed towards Earth, and our own Moon is soon coming clearly into view. We’re skirting the edge of the Moons atmosphere, scrubbing off speed, redirecting the ships’ heading back to Earth. This time the ISS is nowhere to be seen.
“Prepare for re-entry.”
The straps on our safety belts are tightened, and we retreat into the private atmospheres of our space suits. The outside of the ship glows first red, orange, then bright white, and the shuddering of before has now become a violent shaking. We seem to be going far too fast, but the real astronauts look calm and accepting of the conditions. I don’t relax.
Suddenly the flight cabin is filled with a comforting blue light, and we’re no longer n space. The full flat area of the base of the space craft slaps the thicker, lower atmosphere and we’re told to prepare for landing. The flight captain lowers the landing wheels, and as we touch down seven enormous parachutes are released form the rear of the ship to slow us down further. The landing strip on Merritt Island is nearly five kilometres long, and we come to a stop before its end.
We’re transferred back to the private jet at Orlando Airport, and are soon on our way back to Preston. The pubs are open for outside drinking today, and we should be back in time for a last pint!
Oakham Citra, outside of The Crossing Micropub, in Hest Bank.
We’re going to have one full night and day on Mars, before our return just after midnight on the twelfth. The real astronauts will be gathering data about the landing procedure, and preparing for the return flight. Dave and I have bagged a few hours in the Mars rover for a spot of drinking and driving.
The scale of the Mars base is quite impressive as it’s all been kept quite secret from the general public. Dave and I are under strict instructions to stay within the communal areas, and not to wander off. That’s fine, as long as we can do so without masks!
There’s a comfortable lounge area where we can get some food, and settle ourselves with a beer or two before we retire to our bunks. I’m having a can of ‘Rapture’ from Magic Rock. Dave’s having a ‘Red’ from Ennerdale Brewery. The carbonation is a little off, probably due to Mars’ differing gravity. I choose the large bottle of ‘Somerset Redstreak’ cider by Ross-on-Wye, next. Delicious tarte and apple-y! Good night!
There’s no milk, so I have a black coffee for breakfast, and some reconstituted maple banana pancake mush from a foil envelope. The thin watery sunlight shines like Germoline through the large viewing window, and I can see the distant astronauts bob around the base of the experimental space craft taking measurements of some sort. We’re allowed the Mars rover after lunch, so there is time for a few drinks beforehand.
We share a bottle of sour OverWorks from BrewDog, the Bedrock Red. My mouth feels dryer than ever in this fake atmosphere, and I have to gulp the beer down into my acidic stomach. It’s red IPA time next from Fyne Ales, their ‘Red Morning’ beer. I should have started with that! Next, a can of Delerium ‘Red’, sipping fruity and strong, it resolves my thoughts, and I relax a bit after that BrewDog monstrosity!
Dave and I change into our flight suits for the trip in the rover. We’re going to be chauffeured around the highlights of the immediate Martian landscape, free to indulge in our beer. The first of which is Rodenbach Classic. Such a great, quaffable Flanders Ale. I wish I’d brought two, but I had to make sure there was room for a Duchesse de Bourgogne, which is close enough.
Returning to Mars Base, I go all modern with ‘Red Forest’ berliner Weisse from Spanish brewers La Pirata. Sharp and sour, it refreshes dry palate. There’s a bustle of activity as the real astronauts busy themselves with a pre-launch routine. I drink a Red Rocket IPA from Two Chefs Brewing, and wait for lift off.
Strapped into the much more spacious flight cabin of the Mars Explorer, the flight crew pressed buttons, turned dials and switched switches. I watched the Earth move from night to day, as the sun rose for the sixteenth time that day, and glared brightly through the small porthole. A distant ‘clank’ announced our undocking from the ISS, and we moved slowly away. The station steadily shrunk until it became a glowing ‘H’ disappearing around the Earth, chasing the Pacific into the sun. Our orientation wandered away from the earth, the moon appearing in the far distance, and we steadied. A distinct push in our rear begins to build as the interplanetary propulsion system is engaged, and the moon appeared to grow bigger every second.
“As soon as we pass the moon, we’ll accelerate to cruising speed and the autopilot will take over.”
The flight Captain turns back to his controls. I wink at Dave, and peer at the flight plan. In about ten minutes time we should pass close to the Moon, turning a few degrees towards it as if to attain orbit, but instead using its gravity to slingshot our way towards Mars. At that point, the computer would take over the navigation controls, and the engine would push us ever faster towards the red planet.
The ‘real’ astronauts began to unbuckle themselves, so Dave and I left our own seats to have a little explore and a few cans. The Earth is a shrinking blue marble on a computer screen, and we start with ‘Deep Space’ an Imperial IPA from Half Acre. Then another New England IPA, this time from Siren, ‘Suspended In Space’. Two American style IPAs from Italian brewery, ‘Brewfist’ are next; ‘Space Frontier’, and ‘Spaceman’. I’m happy to report that a lack of Gravity doesn’t impact the taste, unlike a lack of gravity!
After a couple of uneventful days floating and drinking, the flight captain calls us back to our seats, and the engines reverse as we begin our deceleration towards, first Phobos, then Mars. Passing the moon Phobos, the computer base there takes over the controls of our ship, to aid the approach through Mars’ thin atmosphere. This is the most dangerous part of the mission, and we all hope we slow quick enough to make the landing merely ‘bumpy’!
‘A brown ale from Arbor Ales; ‘Twigs In Space’ will be our landing beer, and I hope none is spilt!
With just over a week to go until the pubs finally open again, we thought that it was necessary to finish our drinking den sessions with a bang. Our trip to South Korea had been fun, but for me at least, it was merely repeating what I had been doing twenty years earlier. Something bigger, newer, and more fitting to a changing world was needed, as we began transitioning back to a new, old normality.
Just down the road, North of Preston is the BAE base at Warton. Everyone around here has a mate, that’s got a mate, who works at the base. Our mate had connections with a private space firm in the States, who was involved in testing a new propulsion system. The propulsion engine was already aboard the International Space Station, and a rocket was ready to leave Cape Canaveral with a new aircraft, in which it was to be installed. Me and Dave were going to be aboard that rocket!
We caught a private jet out of Warton, and arrived in Florida a few hours later. An official from X-Space collected us from the airport to transport us to the departure lounge at the Cape. Time was tight, a storm was brewing South of Cuba, and the rocket had to take of today. Although not at perigee, Mars was as close as it was going to be for a while. All these impromptu tests were only able to take place due to the lax application of safety rules because of the pandemic. Bureaucrats were looking elsewhere!
We were hurried into our space suits, and directed towards the lift that would take us hundreds of metres into the clear evening sky. The crew cabin, high aloft the rocket, was small and cramped, but was being used merely to transport us to the ISS. The new rocket was contained in a payload bay, below. Seated, and strapped in, the cabin door was locked and countdown began. Ten seconds isn’t long enough to generate too much fear, and the immense power of the rockets igniting beneath us was somehow soothing, the noise and shaking became reassuring. The biggest shock came a couple of minutes after take-off, as we entered the upper atmosphere. As the booster rockets were jettisoned, we entered a freefall orbit. Our bodies, though still accelerating, no longer felt the pull of gravity, nor the millions of tons of thrust that were pushing us higher, towards an orbiting parity with the Space Station.
Normally the docking procedure can take a full day, but we’re dispensing with the normal double and triple checks. A new computer robot docking system has been installed in the payload hatch to enable the engineless Mars Explorer rocket to marry with the ISS. We have to transfer from the take-off crew cabin, through a hatch in the floor, into the Mars Explorer. We pull alongside the International Space Station, and remotely, using the robot arm, transfer ourselves to the docking station. We’ve four hours here, whilst the prototype engine is fitted, and the supplies we’ll need for the week-long trip are installed. We sat in the viewing cupola aboard the International Space Station and enjoyed our first space beer, a New England IPA from Anarchy Brew Co. called ’Dead Space’!